[lit-ideas] What Pigden Ought To Say

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2014 19:37:50 -0400

Or Is To Say.
-- what it is ought to be.
-- What ought to be is.

In a message dated 9/3/2014 5:50:25 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
The above is an unclear and invalid  argument against the so-called 
"naturalistic fallacy". It fails to show that  even a "vacuous" "ought" may be 
derived or deduced from an "is". Leaving Hume's  views (and G.E. Moore's) 
we can defend a version of the "naturalistic  fallacy" that would insist 
there is never a logically valid deduction of an  "ought" from an "is": what 
we may do is deduce an "ought" from an "ought" but  never from an "is", and 
it always a confusion to suggest otherwise.  Let us  say we have a situation 
where what "ought" to be the case is also what "is" the  case: for example, 
that not only should Paul repay Peter the money he borrowed  but also it is 
the case that Paul repays Peter - from all this, can we now  "deduce" that 
what is the case here also "ought" to be the case? Yes, but in  saying this 
we have not deduced the "ought" from any "is" but from another  "ought": the 
fact Paul repays Peter is not a fact from which we can deduce that  Paul 
ought to repay Peter; rather from the "ought" that "Paul should repay  Peter" 
we can deduce that "Paul repays Peter" is what ought to be the case. In  this 
kind of deduction there is no deduction of an "ought" from an "is". The  
quoted passage fails to give any clear or cogent argument showing that some 
sort  of "vacuous" "ought" may be deduced or derived from some "is". Having 
failed in  this, we need not take seriously any suggestion that the passage 
offers any  serious alternative to the view that an "ought" can never be 
derived from an  "is".  It should be emphasised that this version of the 
"naturalistic  fallacy" is compatible with claims that what "ought" to be the 
may be  conditional on certain facts:- as long as we recognise these claims 
are  themselves "oughts" and never are "oughts" deduced or derived from 
facts.   What may happen is that certain views [e.g. certain forms of 
utilitarianism]  assert that what "ought" may be established by certain facts 
what "ought"  = what in fact produces 'the greatest pleasure for the greatest 
number'].  Proponents of such views may lose sight of the fact that their 
assertion here is  not itself an assertion of non-moral fact but an "ought". In 
this way, they may  disguise that such claims - that what "ought" may be 
defined in terms of certain  facts - are never claims that are provable by 
facts or derivable from facts*,  but are always an "ought" (however 
well-disguised or embedded in factual talk).  Donal -- *Even if we could show 
it was in 
fact the case that "something" would  produce 'the greatest pleasure for 
the greatest number', that would never show  that "something" is what ought to 
be the case. And what ought to be the case  could not be deduced or derived 
from any such merely non-moral factual  demonstration.

We are considering an online passage by Pigden brought to our attention by  
Palma -- from "Philosophy Now" -- where 'now' is an indexical, and becomes, 
in  reported speech, "Then".
Pigden now (then?) writes:"

"Why then is No-Ought-From-Is  important?"
Cfr. Why is Important Important? As Virginia Woolf said, "When people find  
something important, I don't."
Pigden goes on:
"The answer is that it isn’t as important as many philosophers take it to  
And so Virginia Woolf was right. 
"Like many truisms it acquires its importance by being denied."
This reminds me of Lewis Carroll: important, unimportant. 
`What do you know about this business?' the King said to Alice.
`Nothing,' said Alice.
`Nothing whatever?' persisted the King.
`Nothing whatever,' said Alice.
`That's very important,' the King said, turning to the jury. They were just 
 beginning to write this down on their slates, when the White Rabbit 
interrupted:  `Unimportant, your Majesty means, of course,' he said in a very 
respectful tone,  but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke.
`Unimportant, of course, I meant,' the King hastily said, and went on to  
himself in an undertone, `important--unimportant-- unimportant--important--' 
as  if he were trying which word sounded best.
Some of the jury wrote it down `important,' and some `unimportant.' Alice  
could see this, as she was near enough to look over their slates; `but it  
doesn't matter a bit,' she thought to herself.
Pigden goes on:
"If someone proclaims that the sun won’t rise every day unless we rip out  
the hearts of sacrificial victims it is worth insisting on the truism the 
sun  rises every day whatever we do. Similarly, if someone proclaims that they 
can  logically deduce moral conclusions from non-moral premises, it is 
worth  insisting on the truism that you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. 
Otherwise  perhaps not."
So Pigden is having in mind, I trust, Utilitarianism. For G. E. Moore, if  
not Hume, for this would be 'avant-la-lettre', was fighting against the  
naturalistic fallacy of the utilitarians.
I.e. the distinction between:
i. We do what achieves the greatest happiness for the greatest  number.
ii. We OUGHT to do what achieves the greatest happiness for the greatest  
Hume is historically less important than G. E. Moore, for in Hume's time,  
EVERYBODY (that was anybody philosophically) was more or less a naturalist 
when  it came to ethics (and this since Aristotle). Perhaps Spinoza tried 
otherwise  with his 'more geometrico'. 
I know Locke was NOT a naturalist, and perhaps Hume should have read Locke  
more carefully (after all, he is catalogued as a British empiricist along 
with  Locke and Berkeley).
"Ought" was R. M. Hare's favourite modal.
Hampshire preferred "should".
And H. Paul G. preferred, 'must', for 'must' incorporates, metaphorically,  
the level of necessity that a Kantian such as he was should deal with.
It's still different with Witters, and Popper.
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